I even go so far as to touch the doorknob.
So desperately do I want to see the painting he has done of me, but my hand falls away. I can’t do that to him. I take a backward step. For the first time in my life I resist my curiosity and refuse to indulge in my propensity to snoop. I run down the stairs and as I get to the bottom stair, Vann opens the front door.
He stops what he is doing and slowly turns his head in my direction. We stare at each other. Not for the first time there is some unspoken message in his eyes. I feel the breath die in my throat. It is as if we are talking but silently. He is telling me something. I am telling him something. I don’t trust what I am saying to him. There is something wrong. I drop my eyes. Confused. What the hell just happened? I hear him walk towards me.
‘Show me your hands,’ he says.
I hold them out to him. ‘I didn’t look, Bluebeard,’ I joke weakly, but my head is still reeling from that silent exchange.
He looks me in the eye. ‘I know.’
‘How do you know?’
‘There are no marks on your hands.’
I laugh. ‘Honestly, how do you know I didn’t?’
‘It’s in your eyes.’
I giggle wickedly and start to undo his belt and pants. ‘And I…want a thick and tasty treat.’
He likes me to do it on my knees, in front of him. I drop to my knees in obedience and rub his member against my cheek. It feels as warm and polished as a glass sculpture that has been sitting in the morning sun. There are not many things more perfect than this. The moment flips to slow motion and we do it right there on the cool wooden floor with Smith watching from not far away. The movement of his fingers inside me is deft, but raw with sensuality. He stares at me while he f**ks me.
‘How many licks before I touch your soul?’ he whispers.
I am too far gone to reply.
Afterward we both lie on our backs panting, staring at the white ceiling. I turn my face towards him. ‘Lana invited us out for dinner.’
‘Do you want to go?’
‘OK. Arrange it with her.’
‘I have. Wednesday, next.’
‘Blake found me an agent. He saw a couple of my canvasses, thought they were good, and has set up a sixteen piece exhibition for me at the Serpentine.’
My eyes light up. ‘The Serpentine? Isn’t that a really posh place that only showcases the works of the very best artists?’
‘Yes, but it’s not a reflection of the quality of my work. More a testament to Blake’s reach.’
I lie on my stomach and prop myself on my lower arms. ‘I hope you’re not thinking of refusing. So what if Blake’s influence can give you a small leg-up. Everybody needs a break at some time in their lives. If your work is not good enough you’ll fail anyway?’
‘No, I’m not going to refuse.’
He smiles lazily and I dig my chin into his chest. ‘Vann?’
‘Why do you keep your hair long?’
‘It’s what hair does naturally: it grows. Shouldn’t you be asking the other men why they cut theirs instead?’
I pull a face.
He chuckles. ‘Hair is not what culture leads us to believe, a cosmetic preference. During the Vietnam War special forces in the war department combed the American Indian Reservations to look for young men with outstanding tracking abilities—experts in stealth and survival.
‘But once enlisted an amazing thing happened to these men. The talents and skills they had possessed on the Reservations seemed to mysteriously disappear. Recruit after recruit failed to perform as expected. Extensive interviews and testing proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when the men received their military haircuts, they could no longer ‘sense’ the enemy or ‘read’ subtle signs. When the men were allowed to grow their hair back their ability to ‘sense’ came back. Hair is an extension of the nervous system, a type of antennae.’
‘Is that really true?’
He grins. ‘Maybe?’
I punch his arm. ‘What do you need tracking skills for anyway?’
‘To track sulky-mouthed girls with green eyes.’
‘My eyes are not green.’
‘You keep saying.’
‘How come Blake’s brothers didn’t come to the wedding?’
I feel him still beside. Always this reaction when we are discussing Blake or his family.
‘I don’t know.’
I know instantly that he is lying. ‘Do keep in touch with them.’
‘A little with Marcus.’
‘What’s he like then.’
‘He changed a lot after his son died.’
There was no mention of that in the websites I had trawled. ‘Oh, how old was he when that happened?’
‘Cot death.’ He sits up suddenly. I reach out a hand and gently tug him back down. He allows me to pull him back down.
‘I’m sorry. It must have been awful.’
‘Yes,’ he sighs. He turns his face to me.
‘Do you believe in God?’
‘I don’t know if I do or not. He gives us so many flaws and then he goes so silent.’
‘Do you think Blake believes in God?’
‘Why do you ask?’ His voice is casual enough, but again his body is suddenly tense.
‘Has Lana said something to you?’
He props his head on the palms of his hands. ‘Have you been snooping again, Julie Sugar?’
I become red-faced. ‘I kind of read Lana’s notes.’ I don’t tell him it was her diary.
His face becomes grave. ‘Curiosity killed the cat.’
‘I’m not a cat. Anyway,’ I say, standing up, flinging his clothes on him, and getting into mine, ‘I’ve got to go and practice.’
You see, I am learning pole dancing. Every day I lock the bedroom door and I practice. I am surprisingly good at it since I have been hanging off door ledges doing my Callanetics for years, and I have very strong arms and the suppleness of a gymnast.
It is a Sunday morning and we have just had breakfast when I turn towards Vann and ask, ‘What about BDSM? Are you going to teach me something about that?’
He looks at me over the rim of his glass. ‘Why? Are you interested in being a submissive?’